December 2016

Climate and weather respect no borders, so investing in regional climate services is a must


The recent El Nino and La Nina phenomena have affected millions of people across several countries, and key climate-reliant sectors such as agriculture, water resources, energy and infrastructure have been impacted.

Developing countries in Africa are among the most affected by climate change impacts, and yet remain among the least prepared to respond or cope when disaster strikes.

One of the reasons is the lack of effective climate services, the collective term for collection, analysis, distribution and application of reliable weather, water and climate information used for early warning and to manage a disaster once it has occurred.

Recognising this gap, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in partnership with National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) initiated national Climate Outlook Forums (COF) in the 1990s.

Given the cross-border nature of weather and climate, Regional Climate Outlook Forums (RCOFs) were also set up within the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) to deliver regional seasonal climate forecasts to governments for development planning and disaster risk management.

The forums bring together climate scientists and experts, forecasters and climate information users such as farmers unions and local authorities, to formulate consensus-based climate outlook guidance and to discuss the implications of probable climate outcomes for climate-sensitive sectors. They are also an important platform for skills transfer on new techniques and methods for climate forecasting, weather prediction and climate research.

The overall premise is that national and regional climate institutions collaborate to ensure that end-users receive adequate climate information and services. Farmers would know when and what to plant depending on the weather forecasts and local authorities would have time to put in place contingency plans to deal with imminent floods or drought.

However, despite the existence of the national and regional climate outlook forums, Africa remains highly vulnerable to climate change hazards, and many communities do not have access to the climate information needed to make their livelihoods climate risk-informed and resilient.

UNDP recently conducted a review of the effectiveness of RCOFs as climate information sharing mechanisms, covering West Africa’s PRESAO (PRÉvisions Saisonnières en Afrique de l'Ouest), Central Africa’s PRESAC (Prévisions Climatiques Saisonnières en Afrique Centrale), and the Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF). The study found several challenges, including:

  • Lack of political will to allocate adequate human and financial resources for the RCOFs to function and hence meet the needs of the various users of climate services;
  • Sustainable financing is a challenge as NHMSs, who are the custodians of national data, cannot charge commercial rates for the data they generate;
  • Lack technical capacities to provide deterministic dynamical forecasts and enabling policies for data-sharing between the Regional Climate Centres, their counterparts in the RECs and NHMSs;
  • Poor planning for the various investments and skills required at national level for the maintenance, service and management of installed monitoring systems and equipment;
  • Limited availability of Information, Communications Technology (ICTs) services needed for effective information management and sharing;
  • Climate information jargon alienates intended end-users, and is not delivered or disseminated efficiently.

It is possible to address some of these challenges. More funding could boost limited human capacities and upgrade poor equipment. It would also improve access to international climate databases and statistical models to help validate raw forecasting data, increasing the reliability and accuracy of the Regional Climate Outlook forecasts.

Robust links and partnerships with media houses and sector specialists can result in better designed products and services targeted appropriately and delivered in accessible formats to the different people who need them.

As climate risks increase, RCOFs have a critical role to play in providing impact forecasts that secure development gains through effective early warning systems and better seasonal preparedness at national level. They can do this by ensuring that NHMSs provide farmers and other “last mile” end users the reliable and quality climate services they need to make risk-informed investment decisions. 

Blog post Africa Disaster risk management Climate change Disaster risk reduction Damage and loss Early warning Sustainable development

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